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Chris Paul: HBCU Superhero

Last Updated: July 1, 2023

This story is part four of Boardroom’s Black History Month “Playmakers” series highlighting figures across sports, business, culture, and entertainment who are working to effect socially conscious change. 
Part I: Patrick Mahomes | Part II: Karl Fowlkes | Part III: Nicole Lynn
Part V: Issa Rae | Part VI: Quinta Brunson | Part VII: Broccoli City

He’s the Point God on the court and headed straight for Springfield — but CP3’s legacy as an advocate for education and historically Black institutions is Hall of Fame-worthy in its own right.

With more years behind him than in front, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul’s legacy on the basketball court is already cemented. CP3’s accomplishments put him among the greatest floor generals ever to have lived, making him the surest of sure-fire bets for first-ballot Hall of Fame status. And while there’s still a missing NBA championship stone in his Infinity Gauntlet — stay tuned for the rest of this season, folks — in its place sits something more impactful: Paul’s relentless advocacy for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their students.

Originally Paul attended Wake Forest University in his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina from 2003 to 2005 but left for the NBA after the conclusion of his sophomore season. In 2020, he enrolled just down the road at the historically Black Winston-Salem State University and ultimately graduated in December of 2022.

But to be clear, several years before he decided to return to school to finish his degree in mass communication, Paul was already making waves in the HBCU world as an advocate, donor, and all-around talisman for both visibility and positive change.

Let’s take a closer look at the timeline.

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Sept. 2018: Paul took a class at Harvard Business School on the business of entertainment, media, and sports taught by Anita Elberse. Upon completing the class, Paul worked with Elberse to bring a similarly-themed masterclass to North Carolina A&T University. The following year, the class earned official recognition as an accredited course.

Aug. 2020-Sept. 2020: Within the NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Paul consistently sported HBCU gear. Whether for pregame walk-ins or on-court during games, Paul could be seen wearing HBCU kicks, shirts, hoodies, shorts, and more. CP3 credited his stylist, Courtney Mays, for the fashion choice in an interview with SLAM:

“Courtney, she’s everything. We’ve talked about this and [saw] it all come together some years ago. We just talked about our platform; it started out with the opportunity to champion African American designers. It’s been so cool in the process not only to shed light on some of these designers who maybe at times wouldn’t be seen or get that platform, but I think it’s been cool for me to learn and get more educated.”

Feb. 2021: Paul served as an executive producer for Andscape’s Why Not Us, an HBCU docuseries highlighting North Carolina Central University’s men’s basketball team in its first season. Since then, the show has highlighted the Florida A&M University Rattlers football team and Southern University’s dance team, better known as the Dancing Dolls.

Feb. 2021: Sour Patch Kids and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) launch the Mischief for Change Scholarship, a program backed by a commitment of $1 million between 2021 and 2025. Paul supported the effort and joined the program as a judge to help award its scholarships.

“I’ve seen firsthand the impact [an] HBCU education can have on students and our communities,” he said on the occasion. “I’m excited to share this opportunity and can’t wait to see how these future leaders shape our world,” Paul said in a statement.

Feb. 2021: Behind the scenes of a COVID-19-affected 2020-21 NBA season, Paul encourages the league and the NBPA to support HBCUs as part of 2021 NBA All-Star Weekend festivities. During the weekend in Atlanta, the two organizations donated $3 million to historically Black institutions through scholarships and other investments throughout the season. The league also decorated its All-Star court with designs that pay tribute to the history and culture of HBCUs. As part of the commitment, the league additionally hosted the first NBA HBCU Classic one year later, a game that saw Howard University and Morgan State University play on the campus of Cleveland State University around All-Star Weekend in The Land.

July 2021: CP3 partnered with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame to launch HBCU Tip-Off, a two-day basketball tournament that saw HBCU teams compete at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, home of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. The second edition of the tournament took place in November of 2022.

Feb. 2022: Paul brought plant-based protein drinks and products to Winston-Salem State University through a partnership with Koia. Paul originally invested in Koia in Aug. 2021. With his investment came an HBCU Vending Machine Program and the release of a limited edition cinnamon horchata flavored protein drink with all of the proceeds going toward funding scholarships at HBCUs.

March 2022: Alongside former First Lady Michelle Obama, Paul launched When We All Vote’s “Vote Loud” HBCU Squad Challenge. Groups on HBCU campuses across the country received grants of up to $3,000 to support aimed at boosting voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote efforts. As Paul said in an email message to Andscape:

“This squad challenge, and everything we do at When We All Vote, is about empowering voters — especially young Black voters who have historically been left out of the political process. We’re seeing voter suppression across the country targeting our community and we know that we have to engage young voters even more right now. Voting is not a spectator sport. When we sit out, someone else is out organizing people or communities who don’t represent us.”

May 2022: With Howard University’s Under Armour contract expiring last year, Paul pushed for Jordan Brand — to whom he has been signed since 2006 — to partner with the Bison on an apparel deal. His lobbying eventually saw the Washington, DC-based HBCU also known as “The Mecca” to ink a historic 20-year deal with the Jumpman.

June 2022: CP3 teamed up with Boost Mobile to help the wireless service provider support the HBCU Tip-Off, which was later renamed to the Boost Mobile HBCU Tip-Off, and in the creation of the Boost Mobile HBCU Challenge. Hosted by Paul himself, the Boost Mobile HBCU Challenge took place in December of 2022.

Dec. 2022: Paul graduated from Winston-Salem State University with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

As he told Andscape on the occason, “I’ve been around these HBCUs my whole life and didn’t know that they [were] underfunded and they [were] not getting this and not getting that. And I looked at myself, I was like, ‘How can I help?’ And on the journey of trying to amplify HBCUs, it was like, ‘Well, it’s time for me to get my degree.’ Why don’t I just use those credits I got from Wake [Forest] and see what transfers to Winston-Salem State? And it’s been the perfect marriage, because now I can say that I attended both of the universities that are here in my hometown.”

CP3’s icon status was already guaranteed thanks to his incredible exploits on both ends of the floor as part of a basketball career now in its 18th season. But years down the line when he’s already duly enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Springfield, we may look back and realize that his finest work was uplifting and empowering students, athletic programs, and institutions whose impacts don’t simply hit close to home for the Point God, but are quite literally home.

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About The Author
Randall Williams
Randall Williams
Randall Williams is a former Staff Writer at Boardroom specializing in sports business and music. He previously worked for Sportico, Andscape and Bloomberg. His byline has also been syndicated in the Boston Globe and Time Magazine. Williams' notable profile features include NFL Executive VP Troy Vincent, Dreamville co-founder Ibrahim Hamad, BMX biker Nigel Sylvester, and both Shedeur and Shilo Sanders. Randall, a graduate of "The Real HU" -- Hampton University — is most proud of scooping Howard University joining Jordan Brand nearly three months before the official announcement.